The Biggest Surprises of the 2020 NBA Season

Mar 11, 2020; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) dribbles as Denver Nuggets forward Torrey Craig (3) defends during the second half at American Airlines Center.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA will return to Disney World on July 31. There will be a short wrap up for the regular season, but very few. The regular season is more or less complete, so it’s fair to analyze it now. There have been many unanticipated storylines and performances that even the most decorated pundits didn’t see coming.

The battle of L.A. and the Harden-Westbrook tandem in Houston were some of the more salient storylines heading into the season. However, some players have experienced unprecedented growth or simply burst onto the scene in All-Star fashion. Certain teams have drastically outperformed expectations, while others unexpectedly plummeted to the bottom of the standings.

Here are some of the league’s biggest surprises this year.

All statistics courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com/

The Roaring Thunder

Mar 6, 2020; New York, New York, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul (3) dribbles the ball against the New York Knicks during the first half at Madison Square Garden.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Having traded their two mainstays this past offseason, many expected the Thunder to be near the bottom of the league. Critics anticipated GM Sam Presti to trade Chris Paul – consequently, preparing them for the draft and rebuilding for the future. To add insult to injury, ESPN BPI gave them a 0.2% chance to make the playoffs.

Fast forward to today, and the Thunder are sitting at fifth in the loaded Western Conference. They’re 2.5 games back from the three seeded Nuggets and are even ahead of the Houston Rockets – the team that exiled Chris Paul and landed former Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook. 

What makes this all the more astonishing is that they’re doing this with a plethora of role players and an aging superstar. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – a piece in the Paul George trade – has emerged as a rising star. The guard is averaging just under 20 points in his sophomore season. Chris Paul has reinvigorated himself; he’s statistically the clutchest player in the league and has continuously proven his leadership prowess.

It’s difficult to say what the restarted season has in store for them. However, seeing how nobody saw them being this good, they’re already one of this season’s greatest surprises.

All-Star Adebayo

Mar 11, 2020; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat forward Bam Adebayo (13) dunks the ball against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half at American Airlines Arena.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Heat’s decision to move on from Hassan Whiteside this past offseason meant an enlarged role for Adebayo. In his first two seasons, he showed glimpses of defensive and rebounding talent. Still, Adebayo only averaged 7.9 points and 1.9 assists. Analysts projected him as a role player for the next few years. Instead, now the big man is on the verge of becoming the Heat’s next superstar.

Now in his third season, Adebayo has people shaking their heads in disbelief. He’s averaging  16.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists. Comparable to Draymond Green, he stuffs the stat sheet and is a menace on the defensive end. Adebayo was a clear cut All-Star. He’s also forecasted to win MIP and is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.

With next to no offensive game in his first two years, Adebayo has doubled both his scoring and assists. According to NBA.com, he creates 13.6 points per game for his teammates, ranking him second amongst centers. In less than a year he’s turned himself into one of the most versatile players in the league.

The Woeful Warriors

March 1, 2020; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Andrew Wiggins (22) dribbles the basketball during the fourth quarter against the Washington Wizards at Chase Center.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY

In the last year, Oakland lost two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant to the Nets and Klay Thompson to injury. Still, the Warriors were not supposed to have the worst record in the league. ESPN forecasted the Warriors to have the fifth-best odds to win the NBA title. Stephen Curry was looking to have an MVP type year. His pick and roll partner, Draymond Green, was seeking to dust off his Defensive Player of the Year capabilities.

Then injuries hit. Curry broke his left hand four games into the season and Green has been in-and-out of the lineup with a multitude of injuries. Their offseason acquisition, D’Angelo Russell, has also missed his fair share of games due to several ailments.

The once dynastical Warriors now held a league-worst record of 15-50. Their lineups consisted of inexperienced – and unknown – players. They also rank 28th in points per game, 26th in defensive rating, and 30th in both simple rating system and offensive rating, according to BasketballReference.com

The Meteoric Rise of Luca Doncic 

Mar 11, 2020; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) dribbles as Denver Nuggets forward Torrey Craig (3) defends during the second half at American Airlines Center.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

After having a historic rookie season last year, the future couldn’t look brighter for Luka Doncic. However, being an MVP candidate and shattering records night in and night out is something very few envisioned for merely his second year.

Before the hiatus, Doncic was averaging 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 8.7 assists. He’s posting a near triple-double and is the driving force behind the Mavericks’ potent offense. Statistically, the Dallas Mavericks have the highest offensive rating of all-time – and that is in large part due to the play of Doncic.

In just his second year, Doncic is likely going to finish fourth in the MVP race. He’s also accumulated the most triple-doubles before the age of 21 and is the only player in league history to record multiple 30 point triple-doubles in 30 minutes or less. Moreover, this past November, the Slovenian prodigy joined Oscar Roberston and Russell Westbrook as the only players ever to average a 30 point triple-double for a calendar month.

This season has already dealt with its fair share of surprises off the floor, and these astonishing storylines only perpetuate the everlasting drama that is the NBA. As the league ramps up for their return to play, we can only expect even more unpredictable headlines.